I was a three-time volunteer (loser, in that I had been volunteered to become a weredog, then been volunteered for the Weredog Corps and then been volunteered for the Green Beret Task Force), winding my way through a third enlistment, when we landed on Venus to find ourselves up against a vast Ninja Noldor Gnome Army much larger than what our Intel people had told us we would be facing.
I had been living as a chocolate lab with a family of potato programmers in Pocatello when the goon-squad came for me. Off-Earth imperialism and colonies, and subsequent wars, had siphoned people from Earth by the hundreds of millions. It did not take long before Earth was short of people to run things, to defend and attack things. Genetic engineers had made therianthropy a reality and weredogs and werecats were the top of those new product lines, mostly destined for soldiering.
Earth soldiers had long ago all been re-designated as SEALs and Rangers. But, the elite of the elite were still called Green Berets, a status reserved for only the best of the best. Somehow I made my way into the Weredog Green Beret Task Force headed for Venus to put down the Ninja Noldor Gnome Insurrection.
Old folks told stories of days when Earth was overpopulated, when there were too many people, too many dogs and cats, too little food and water. It was hard to conceive of such a scenario. Wars and epidemics changed that. Soon Earth was short of people, and a few other species. Scientists made up much of the difference with robots. But, leaps in genetic engineering, and the human appetite for slaves and servants, led to all sorts new cloned, hybrid species. My genesis was part of that panoply. So were gnomes.
Gnomes were released onto the market with much fanfare and promise. Humans would never again have to tend to their own gardens. Gnomes would handle it all, and look cute in the process. But, their promise soon went off the rails. Someone gave the gnomes AI consciousness (most assume it was the French gnome liberationist group, Front pour la Libération des Gnomes), which promptly prompted the gnomes to throw down their garden trowels and revolt. Gardens fell into disarray as the gnomes rioted and burned, then stole some space craft and escaped the Earth. No one knew where they went, until the call for help came from the Space Wolves.
A colony on Venus, called Lycanthropolis, founded by a group of emancipated werewolves, who called themselves The Space Wolves, had for years been successfully terra-forming on Venus, developing new types of vegetables and giant high-protein insects, when the gnomes attacked. It started as simple gnoming, garden pranks and jokes, but soon got serious. In no time gnomes were running amok in the streets and gardens, stealing werewolf garden statuary and releasing it in the wild, rearranging plants and leaving threatening gnome haiku, written in Old German script, on doors and gates all over the planet. All of a sudden the gnomes weren’t so cute anymore and hostilities escalated.
On the surface we formed up fast, but did not have to wait. They hit us in waves, scything with their battle trowels and combat hoes, ululating that strange song of theirs. We held as long as we could and my pack-company was down to half combat-strength before we got split off and separated from the rest of our pack-battalion and were almost over run. We fought our way clear and found some werewolf survivors holed up on an abandoned mantis ranch. That is where I first saw and smelled her.
Her name was Bernice and she was a Bichon from Baltimore. She was also AWOL from the Weredog Corps, had joined the Space Wolves in hopes of freedom and open spaces. Her scent intoxicated me. We were drawn together like fuel and fire and immediately inseparable.
HQ radioed us and told us the plan and gave us coordinates to where we were to make haste and ready. We took Bernice and the other wolves with us. Couldn’t leave them there. Besides, all were trained and blooded warriors.
We moved fast, fought our way through several skirmishes, and Bernice stayed by my side every step of the way. She was a fighter, slashing and tearing with elegance. I brought her up to speed on our new weapons. She, just being near, tested my resolve and restraint.
We rendezvoused with other units, awaited orders, then lured the gnomes into choke points, simultaneously all over the planet, with promises of shiny gold and fresh potting soil. They fell for it every time. We churned them like gnome butter then drove the survivors into deserts and arid plains, where they were cut off and creatively stifled until they’d had enough and surrendered.
We mediated talks between the werewolves and the gnomes. Jamon Mercarder, the Werewolf leader, was holding out, so I had him killed. Didn’t trust him anyway. Gimlis, the gnome leader, laughed for an hour, demanded that we all drink several gallons of garden grog, which had a none too subtle bouquet of compost, and then signed the agreement.
So, a deal was brokered. The gnomes would stay on Venus and help the werewolves to grow their veggies and trees, herd their gargantuan beetles and hoppers. I am told that in a few short years Venus became a garden paradise. (Snakes are strictly forbidden.) But I cannot attest to that, because Bernice and I are long gone.
We headed out with a few adventurous weredogs and werewolves to find our fate, with possibly a little pirating on the side, to make ends meet. We are searching for a constellation called Canis Major, and a sun called The Dog Star, where we hope to find a civilization of canines where leashes, collars, water dishes and steel traps do not exist. And Bernice and I are making use of the time to get well acquainted, doggy style, you might say.
I am a veteran of U.S. Army Special Operations and of numerous writers programs and herds. I have an M.A. in English, from UMKC, the University of Missouri in Kansas City. I have done a lot of corporate and military writing, but not had any fiction published lately, am just getting back into this. I live with a she-demon, two human adolescents, two dogs, one of which is a weredog, and a cat, who seems to be in charge of the household.
Mitsuko turned from the busy sidewalk into the dark alleyway, glancing over her shoulder to ensure she was not being followed. Her hand clasped the wet spot on her abdomen where the wound bled into her hand. She couldn’t believe that, even after centuries of being dead and buried, the steel blades of the long deceased Zoku Clan could still cut so deeply. Mitsuko knew she wasn’t supposed to go out alone but she had to prove her worth to her clan. The Jade Clan had been a traditionally male clan for centuries. Before Mitsuko there had only been two female Jade ninjas and they were clansmen before Mitsuko’s grandparents had been born.
She pressed onward, plunging deeper into the darkness of the alleyway until she located the steel gray door at the end. Mitsuko banged the door urgently, praying that her fellow clansmen would not scold her and that they would listen. She’d, once again, gone against their wishes and hunted for the witch, Sadako, on her own.
The door swung open and Kenichi, her partner, stood in front of her, glaring.
“Ken,” Mitsuko said, reaching for him as he caught her arm.
“What the hell happened to you?” He demanded. Mitsuko hesitated, knowing that her answer would anger Kenichi. She’d put her life at risk again without him there to back her up.
“Sadako,” she said quietly, feeling Kenichi’s furious eyes on the back of her neck. He said nothing as he shut the door and swept her up into his arms, carrying her to the living area. Kenichi laid her on the couch where the other clansmen quickly gathered around, begging to know what happened. After Kenichi quieted them all, Mitsuko told them.
“Sadako has arisen them,” she said tiredly. “They’re back.”
“Who? What has she arisen?” Kenichi asked eagerly. Once again she stalled, this time she knew the answer would cause a panic but she had to tell them.
“The Zoku Clan.”
A dead silence swept the room, each clansman looking perplexedly at one another.
“Impossible,” Kenichi protested, breaking the silence. Mitsuko knew he’d be first to object.
“It’s true, they’ve arisen from the dead and are headed for the city now,” she explained. “They did this to me.” Mitsuko lifted her shirt, revealing the slice along the side of her abdomen from the ancient steel blade. While the other clansmen immediately retrieved herbs to heal her wound, Kenichi stood over Mitsuko, glowering into her eyes.
“You have to stop doing this Mitsuko,” he said gravely. “I could have lost you tonight.”
Mitsuko turned her face away, too ashamed to look him in the eye. She knew how much he cared about her because she felt the same. They were more than partners, they were friends. Kenichi gently turned Mitsuko’s face to his.
“Swear you’ll never leave without me again,” he demanded. Mitsuko looked deeply into his eyes, taking note of the severity within them. She had to prove her worth to the Jade Clan. She wanted to prove that she was as good a warrior as any of the males there but she knew she needed Kenichi by her side.
“I swear,” she agreed.
Long ago, the Zoku Clan was an enemy of the Jade Clan. Nearly five hundred years had passed since the great Jade Grandmaster had slaughtered the last of the Zoku Clan. Their resting place was not far from Osaka. Legends told that there were only about sixty of them all together but regardless of their small numbers they were a force to be reckoned with.
Few ninja clans were capable of harnessing Ether or learning the divine Ethereal Arts, but the Zoku Clan could. But they didn’t always use their powers for good. When Zoku ninjas attacked Osaka in the late sixteenth century, little did they know that the Jade Clan was blessed by a power equivalent to the power of Ether: the infernal Nethereal Arts.
Mitsuko laid on her bed that night, gazing at the ceiling when streaks of golden light floated across it, breaking through the darkness. Mitsuko recognized these lights as Nether waves but she’d never seen them in this arrangement. She sat up and looked to the corner of her room, locating the entity responsible.
At the edge of the city, the Jade ninjas could see the ranks of the of the Zoku revenants in the distance. Regardless of the darkness of the night, there was no mistaking the limping, slouched bodies from the distance. Their tattered flesh and armor fluttered in the chilly Osaka air. An upright figure stood to the center, walking with the poise of a runway model. Long black hair fell to her waist and a red kimono hugged her figure. Sadako and her zombified army now stood across from the Jade ninjas.
“I expected a bit more of a challenge than this,” Sadako sneered. “Too bad about the little bitch my minions disposed of.”
Kenichi narrowed his eyes, focusing in on Sadako. He drew his katana and screamed the Nether incantation, setting the blade on fire. The other ninjas followed.
“Death comes to those who wish it,” Sadako said and signaled her zombie slaves to spring their attack. Out of nowhere, a great explosion of light blasted the undead warriors backwards before they reached the Jade ninjas, Sadako stood her ground.
As the dust cleared, the light revealed the cause of the destruction.
“It can’t be,” Sadako said grimly.
“It is,” Mitsuko said with an immortal echo. Her body glowed with Nethereal energy and she held a blade her clansmen had never seen.
“You shouldn’t go waking the dead, witch,” Mitsuko said. “You might wake that which you don’t desire.” Sadako grimaced and sent her troops forward. Mitsuko only swung the ancient blade once, sending a final explosion across the fray. The other ninjas came to realize what this was, how Mitsuko had become so powerful.
“The Jade Grandmaster has returned,” Kenichi murmured.
D.L. Smith-Lee was born in a suburb of Chicago called Harvey, Illinois. He has published two stories, one in the 100 Worlds drabble anthology and one in the 100 Doors to Madness anthology. Hoping to flood the Earth in the dreamworlds of fantasy, he writes for escape from reality and the love of writing. He currently resides in Florida, where he serves in the US Navy.
I remember the cold on my eyeballs. The smell of it. So clean.
It didn’t take us long to file into the nearby cave for warmth. The wreckage was barely smoking in the snow. The rumpled plane was as wintry as the landscape.
No implements with which to start a fire inside. Just shivering survivors warmed only by proximity and the friction from our quaking shoulders. We numbered five.
At three days lost in the tundra, Carmike fashioned a cave door from a section of airplane. It stopped the wind.
At four days we had eaten everything we found, including bits of leather and chewing gum. Sierra began eating her hair.
At three weeks, surviving only on melted snow, sour bush berries, and a skinny rabbit we quartered and shared and ate raw, Carmike and I began making eyes at each other; scheming without words. Baumer dropped dead that evening. He had been the eldest. The ground too frozen to even hope to bury him, we crunched him into a corner; face covered, and prayed he wouldn’t spoil.
What could spoil in this ice? We might have eaten him if he weren’t so stiff and green. His age-wrinkled skin appeared unappetizing even to we wretched hungry.
I was relieving myself on day twenty-three, steadying my weak corpus by holding fast to a tree, when Carmike startled me with his hand abruptly on my shoulder. I finished and turned to him.
“We’re the strongest, Reeves. And Sierra has the most fat. Richards will protest, but I can take him out,” he said.
“What are you suggesting?” I asked. I hated myself for wasting the breath to pretend. “…It’ll be messy,” I added.
“The quicker we eat her, the warmer her blood will be.”
My conscience was as numb as my swollen, frost-nipped toes.
“I’ll yawn as a cue,” Carmike said. “With my arms wide. Like so,” he added, spreading his limbs like Christ.
I made a single nod.
Later Carmike performed his pantomime, like the world’s worst actor. I hesitated, but grabbed Sierra by her shoulders before the sluggish minds surrounding us could catch wise. Richards’s objection came when he stood swiftly onto unsure feet, but just as summarily, Carmike clocked him with the butt of our flashlight.
We were upon Sierra then, men no more. And her blood was warm in a way the skinny rabbit had only very sadly mocked. And it was messy and when it was over our stomachs did strange things.
We collapsed onto our backs, the macabre pair of us. When Richards had fallen, he’d pulled back the blanket hiding Baumer’s dead face so that the departed was staring at me, his features contorted in accusatory disgust.
This may have bothered me had the sharp pain in my belly not assaulted all my faculties. Carmike likewise writhed, bumping the cave door opened with his knee. It was sunset and I had a view from the ground, past my protruding ribs and the toes of my shoes to witness his combustion.
That’s right, the fading shard of sunlight shot through the snowy trees and in through the crack in the door to make Carmike catch fire. He was screaming so. And to stop the sound I inched along the floor and reached to pull the door to. The back of my hand was burned in the process.
The cave fell silent, but was saturated with a smell like brimstone. When the pain in my stomach waned I questioned what I’d just witnessed. Was this madness? Hell perhaps? A place where sunlight kills.
Time passed before I finally lifted myself and scooted over to Carmike’s char-black body. Whereas I now felt strong and nourished, Carmike, who had grown long fangs, which hung down from his opened mouth, was rigid and blank. When I traced my own finger across my teeth I discovered the same sharp canines.
In fact, what remained of his coal ears were pointed –bat-like. Mine were the same.
A truth invaded my brain. The cold, the live human blood mingling with my stomach acid; somehow these parts forged me into a monster.
It was night and I left the cave to enjoy my new found liveliness and invulnerability. I noted that the cold on my eyeballs was perceived, but was so much less affecting than before.
I found a moonlit pool and dipped my head to view my reflection. I marveled that it was mine. My skin was chalky and my hair the color of star shine. I reached to disturb the pool and use its contents to wash free Sierra’s blood from my mouth. Since making a meal of the woman, I no longer thirsted for water.
I tried to eat animals. I tried to eat sour berries. Neither would do.
I felt badly toying with Richards for several consecutive nights after he came to, unnecessarily elongating the hunt, but I was so bored and help was never going to come. As for my own escape, I could only walk so far in any given direction before daybreak.
I tried to end it. Leapt clean off the face of a very high cliff. I never lost consciousness. I just waited where I landed for the dull menace of my broken bones, a sensation as neutered as the cold on my eyes, to ease and mend, then sat up in the snow. I used both hands instinctively to realign my neck.
I’d always heard that hell was other people, but without any to feed from I found myself in purgatory.
Richards was my last victim. I emptied the cave after, and thanks to my incredible strength, buried in the frozen earth those who had survived the crash with me. Why leave the evidence?
I hibernated in the cave, finding a kind of unnatural suspended animation. I daydreamed, contemplating the things I missed the most, like coffee and suspense films, a woman reapplying her lipstick. I did this until the spring thaw. And a hiker came.
Sasha Janel McBrayer is an author of short speculative fiction from Savannah, Georgia. Her fantasy, science fiction and horror stories can be found at Silverthought, Title Goes Here, Infective Ink and in Future Imperfect: Best of Wily Writers, Vol.2. Visit her blog at http://storybysasha.blogspot.com/.
Publsihed in Deep Space Terror in 2010.
Paz walked down the ramp leading to the purple planet. Inhaling, she took a deep breath of air and gagged.
“Use the damned breathing tube, stupid!” The group leader barked. “Are you crazy, trying to breathe fresh air?” He looked at the crewman still at the top of the gangway and snarled, “Civilians!”
Chagrinned, Paz quickly used the tube and hoped the other 200 colonists thought she was red from choking.
After they all settled into the quarters left behind by the scouting crew. Paz gazed around at the planet someone had named Lavender. It was breathtaking, both literally as she had just discovered, and figuratively. Everything was a shade of purple.
She couldn’t wait to spy the inhabitants of this world. She’d read about them in the reports: friendly, pet-like, primitive creatures resembling large dogs, but more intelligent. They had a language of sorts and lived wild without shelter, or weapons, or even tools even though they were physically capable of making them. The original hundred men and women who had lived here for four months had fondly named them Lavis.
She studied the purple landscape and remembered the horror when she learned how the entire scouting crew died as their ship veered off course into an asteroid field. Those brave people stayed here, established the rights to colonize and harvest the planet, and died on the way home. She didn’t approve what they did for a living, choosing planets to rape and pollute, but she felt sad that they perished.
Paz was on a mission herself, a mission to end the gravy train of human domination throughout the cosmos. She, and many others like her, felt mankind had destroyed civilization after civilization in the name of colonization as they sweep through the cosmos polluting and depleting every planet they found. She was proud to be a spy for an underground organization. She was going to make sure the inhabitants of Lavender kept their culture.
The second day after the colonists landed, the Lavis came out of the deep purple forest. Paz couldn’t believe how beautiful they were; long pale lilac fur, huge soulful eyes, a doglike snout, and big bushy tails that wagged when they saw the people. The lead Lavi walked up to Paz on six legs and spoke an unintelligible language. She smiled and fumbled for her translator, then realized she didn’t need it because the creature smiled back and licked her cheek.
“Are you crazy!” the human group leader snarled and pushed Paz away. “Hello,” he said solemnly to the Lavi leader. “I am Morgan, Group Commander of Colonization Party Lav001.” Then he held out his hand.
The alien smiled and licked the commander’s hand.
That night the group leader called Paz into his office. “Look, Scientist 2876, we are here to settle and harvest any valuable minerals for the Republic. I don’t need you constantly taking foolish chances. Just do your job and stay close to the camp. I saw you trying to breathe pure air and now you interfered with our contact with the locals. Woman, if you don’t watch out, you are going to end up a casualty.”
Paz wanted to scream, I am doing my job, my real job, to stop you. But she kept her mouth shut and left.
Everyone quickly settled into routine. The Lavis seemed overjoyed to have people back on their planet and said so repeatedly, “Love humans, miss humans, happy humans are back.”
They even moved into the camp. It seemed like each person had been adopted by a Lavi. The group leader hadn’t been happy at first, but even he was won over by an adoring creature that lay by his side at night, and licked his hands.
Paz sought out what seemed to be the leader and through her communicator tried to talk to him, but he just wanted to be with her and lick her hands until the rough tongue rubbed her skin raw.
Finally, one night Paz whispered, “Take me to your home.”
The Lavi studied her with his big, liquid eyes and nodded. He led her deep into the woods and down into a network of underground caverns until they came to a huge room with a conveyer belt and a huge machine.
Paz gasped. “So you aren’t so primitive after all. I came to warn you. People are bad. They will destroy your way of life. They will make you slaves to their ways.”
The leader smiled, and chanted, “Love humans, love humans, love humans.” Other Lavis appeared from the shadows and joined in.
Paz thought she’d explode with frustration. “Don’t you understand!”
The leader smiled and nipped Paz’s hand with his tiny, sharp teeth. “Love humans.”
“Ouch,” Paz yelped as she grasped at the tiny pinpricks of blood. Before she could say another word, her legs gave out and she sank to the floor. “Why…” she started to say, but her tongue didn’t work right and her throat felt like it was closing.
The creatures lifted her onto the conveyer belt. She struggled to take in air. Face down on the conveyer she rolled along. Fighting to keep her vision in focus she stared at the marks on the belt and recognized the insignia of the marine space corps right next to her face. Cold flooded through her as she realized she was staring at a tattoo.
She was riding on the skins of people! The first party, she wondered with fading consciousness. But they had taken off, hadn’t they? She forced words out…”p-p-p-people skin?”
The chanting continued, “Love Humans, love humans, love humans.”
And she understood. These simple creatures weren’t going to be enslaved by humans. No, they were farming humans. No wonder that ship went off course, she thought with her fading strength, it had been empty!
She couldn’t breath anymore. Blackness closed in on her world and just before it all went dark, she heard the chant change. “Love humans, love humans, love humans with gravy.”
Diane Arrelle, the pen name of South Jersey writer Dina Leacock, has been writing for more than 20 years and has sold almost 200 short stories and has two published books, Just A Drop In The Cup, a collection of short-short stories and Elements Of The Short Story, How to Write a Selling Story. She is proud to be one of the founding members as well as the second president of the Garden State Horror Writers and is also a past president of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. When not writing, she is a director of a municipal senior citizen center. She lives with her husband, sometimes her sons and of course her cat on the edge of the Pine Barrens in Southern New Jersey (home of the Jersey Devil). You can visit her at dinaleacock.com
First published in Dark Horizons 2012
Twist and turn the genetic skein,
and produce a viewing machine.
Here is the peculiar woman, born and bred
for the uncanny.
In the Black Hole Hotel
cusping singularity held in stasis,
dark shadows stutter on the walls.
Standing at the foot of your bed,
Your future-lives, bled from her head.
Here made real.
Don’t get too close to the peculiar woman.
Don’t look into her ink-space face.
Or twist and turn, you’ll fall,
within her mystery.
And you’ll never leave,
The Black Hole Hotel.
Add your life to the residents’ list.
You never had a future,
only the longing.
Kelda Crich is a new born entity. She’s been lurking in her creator’s mind for a few years. Now she’s out in the open. Find her in London looking at strange things in medical museums or on her blog: http://keldacrichblog.blogspot.com/
The spacecraft arrives back with a cargo hold full of “humans”. The tall gates of a vast acreage pen opens and they are released. Some stand by the gate stunned while others run into the lush vegetation and hide. Hours later the Zolitec teams venture into the pen to hunt. Zolitecs loved the waterskins sport, either playing or watching on large monitors, it is their second most popular sport. The teams with the most kills win. The prizes include huge trophies, silver, and gold. However, the best part would come afterwards when the Zolitecs would barbecue the waterskins and feast.
Denny E. Marshall has had art, poetry and fiction published. Some recent credits include poetry at Kalkion and Aphelion, art at UFO Gigolo and Mystic Nebula and fiction at Black Petals Magazine. He does have a website with some previously published works. The web address for the website is www.dennymarshall.com
It has been well known for several years now that a man in a clown costume, flanked by two feral gibbering adolescents in dirty rags, with limbs twice the length they ought to be, held on chains held by the gloved hands of the clown, dances through a multitude of small towns in Georgia and Alabama, on their side streets and their playgrounds, their parking lots and their back yards.
In each of these towns, the vision decked in off white face paint, a dirty pink spherical nose, green flickering bloodshot eyes, blue and green and red flapping material, electric blue tufts of hair, enters with these two disfigured figures, lets them smell the warm Southern night air, then lets them off their leashes, wherein they scuttle off into the night – over fences, clinging to drain pipes as they scramble up walls, through open front doors.
At the end of each night, two adolescents with limbs twice the size they ought to be sheepishly crawl back like beaten dogs, and sit with their heads facing the dry grass as the clown places the collars back around their necks. He throws back his head and chuckles, then off he goes, before the dawn can touch him.
Each of these nights in which the clown comes to town, two young teenagers will vanish from their rooms, from their walks home, from their back yards, and each of these nights two stretched and inexplicable skeletons will be found in shallow graves in the Georgia or Alabama soil. They’re never identified.
BIO: Stephen Kerr is an early 20’s grave riser from Scotland with a passion for urban legend and the bizarre. Twitter: https://twitter.com/Phil_N_Stine.
This story has been published in two previous fiction magazines.
“Step right up ladies and gentlemen,” yelled the carnival barker, “and see Herbie, the friendliest zombie in the world. He sings, he dances, he tells jokes. See the greatest show on Earth for just a dollar. Step right up and see Herbie, the only zombie who ever performed for European Royalty. Show starts in five minutes. Hurry, hurry.”
The barker didn’t have to convince Wilma. She couldn’t wait to see the zombie after reading about him in the newspaper. The part that really caught her eye described Herbie as tall, dark, and exceptionally handsome.
Once inside the tent, she noticed one end of the stage was blocked from view by black curtains. She figured the handsome zombie was probably behind them preparing for his performance. The idea of being just feet away from a famous celebrity gave her butterflies.
At the other end of the stage, a man sat facing a machine loaded with dials, switches, and flickering lights. Wilma thought it looked like something from a mad scientist’s laboratory.
The barker appeared onstage and said, “What you’re about to see will amaze you. But before we begin, I have a few announcements. First, that bouncy accordion music you heard when you came into the tent is from Herbie’s latest CD album, Herbie Plays Polka Greats. It’ll be on sale after the show, along with Herbie T-shirts, and photos. Herbie will sign every photo you buy. Finally, if you look toward the back of the tent, you’ll see bright yellow exit signs.”
“Is that where we’re supposta run in case the zombie goes nuts and attacks us?” yelled a drunk.
The audience giggled nervously, as two carnival bruisers dragged the drunk toward an exit.
The barker blew a whistle to draw attention back to the stage. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, Doctor Zangara’s Amazing Traveling Shows is proud to present Herbie, the friendliest zombie in the world!”
Everyone applauded, as a spotlight illuminated the curtains. The barker opened them to reveal a zombie in a yellow jump suit sitting in a steel chair. Steel cuffs bound his wrists and ankles to the chair. Wide chains pressed against his chest. His bald head was bowed, as if he were in utter despair.
“Why’s he tied up like that?” somebody asked.
“There’s nothing to worry about. He’s very comfortable,” the barker replied.
“Aren’t those chains hurting him?” asked Wilma.
“No. Zombies don’t feel pain. Nobody feels pain when they’re dead. And Herbie’s dead as a doornail. That’s why we tie him down—so his lifeless body won’t fall outta the chair.”
“How did Herbie get to be a zombie?” asked a little girl.
“He useta live in Haiti. One day He got sick and died. After they buried him, a witch doctor dug him up and made him a zombie. Somehow, Herbie wandered into the jungle and got lost. Dr. Dumont of the Haitian Zombie Institute found him. Dumont invented a machine that could bring Herbie back to life, but for only six hours a day. The doctor taught Herbie how to sing, dance, tell jokes, do magic tricks, and play ten musical instruments. Herbie was so happy to be alive for six hours every day, he became very friendly. Dumont was trying to find a way to bring Herbie back to life forever, but he died before he could make that happen. I’ll take one more question, and then we’ll get on with the show.”
“I don’t get it,” somebody said. “Did Dr. Dumont bring Herbie back to life in a way that you and I have life? Or does he have a different kinda life?”
“I don’t know. What does it matter, if he’s friendly and can put on a terrific show? Okay, now we’ll bring Herbie back to life for six hours like Dr. Dumont did by using a Renticular Renificator. It’s a special machine Dumont invented to animate zombies. So let’s get started. First, I’ll put this headset on Herbie. Then I’ll ask James, who’s sitting in front of the machine, to send an electrical signal through the headset.”
When the barker put the headset on the zombie’s bowed head, he said, “James, set renticular renification to zero point three, and press start.”
James twisted some dials and pressed a button. Suddenly, the zombie’s head jerked upward, his eyes popped open, and his face broke out into a brilliant smile. “Hi everybody,” he said in a rich, bubbly voice. “I’m Herbie, the friendliest zombie in the world. Welcome to my show.”
The cheers and applause were deafening.
“I can do lots of things,” Herbie said. “I can play the Beer Barrel Polka on my accordion. I can dance, or sing Jingle Bells and a hundred other songs. I can ride a motorcycle while standing on my head. And lots of other things. What should I do first?”
The crowd shouted a hundred different requests.
“Let’s make it Herbie’s choice” the barker said. “Well, Herbie, what do you feel like doing?”
“I’m in the mood for ballet. James, would you please play that CD I love so much—the one with the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies?”
“Sure thing,” James said, inserting a CD and pressing a green button on the Renticular Renificator to release the zombie’s restraints.
Herbie sprang from the chair and donned a pair of hot-pink ballet slippers. “How do you like my slippers, boys and girls?” he asked, standing on his toes and twirling.
The kids screamed with delight.
The zombie ran behind the black curtains, removed his jump suit, and slid into a hot-pink leotard.
While Herbie twirled and danced on his toes, Wilma felt a flutter unlike anything she’d ever experienced. As he pranced across the stage, she noticed his pouty, fleshy lips, his muscular arms and thighs, his tight glutes. She found herself staring at the bulge below his stomach and how it strained against his tights. Fanaticizing about holding him close, she could almost feel the bulge pressing against her. In all her forty years, Wilma had never felt so wicked.
“That’s very nice, Herbie,” said the barker. “How about showing us how Elvis Presley used to move his pelvis.”
James played raunchy music, and pressed more buttons on the renificator. Herbie went into a frenzy of gyrations that brought squeals from his female admirers. Mesmerized by his frantic pelvic thrusts, Wilma found herself lightheaded and gasping for breath. When sweat broke out on her forehead, she realized Herbie was the man for her.
After the spectacular show, Wilma raced to the back of the tent so she could buy a souvenir photo. Dozens of women had the same idea.
Giggles and flushed faces greeted Herbie when he arrived at the table. Wilma thought he looked like a dashing, fairytale prince.
“Ten dollars, please,” Herbie said with a charming Caribbean accent, when Wilma selected a photo.
“Would you autograph it?” she asked.
“That’ll be five dollars extra,” he said, flashing a gorgeous smile that turned her insides to mush.
As she paid Herbie, his fingertips brushed her hand. Though they were ice cold, Wilma was too overwhelmed to notice.
“What would you like me to write on the picture?” Herbie asked.
“Whatever you wish. But please sign it, With Love, Herbie.”
“What’s your first name, Dear?”
The zombie scribbled across the top, “To Wilma. You’re a sweet, Southern gal. With Love, Herbie.”
She thought she’d faint when he squeezed her hand and said, “Thanks for coming to the show, Sweetie.”
She wanted to tell him how handsome he was, but he’d already turned his attention to the next woman. When he made flirtatious comments to the woman, Wilma felt a jealous flash. She reminded herself that he was just conducting business. All handsome celebrities flirted with fans. It was part of the fame game. It meant nothing. How could it, after the way he squeezed her hand and called her Sweetie with such intensity?
Wilma attended the rest of Herbie’s shows that night. Sitting up front, she waved every time he turned her way.
Herbie did something different in every show, which increased Wilma’s fascination. But she was alarmed during the last show when he sang, I Gotta Be Me. His voice was weakening. Her wrist watch showed five hours and fifty minutes had passed. It was almost time for Herbie to die again.
Right before Herbie’s time ran out, he sat in his steel chair and waved goodbye to the audience. When his head dropped abruptly to his chest, the barker closed the curtains, James threw a switch to activate the chair’s restraints, then turned off the renificator.
Wilma ran from the tent weeping.
On the way to her car, an inner voice reminded her that Herbie wasn’t gone forever. They’d revive him again tomorrow, and she’d see him again.
She decided to attend every show while the carnival was in town. She’d buy mementos after every show. That’d give her three opportunities every night to shake his muscular hand, look into his passionate eyes, hear his glorious voice. Soon, he’d remember her, perhaps even look forward to seeing her. And maybe he’d even want her.
Soon the carnival would move on to other Southern towns. Wilma, an affluent spinster, decided to follow no matter where it went. Realizing nothing could stop her from seeing Herbie three times nightly gave her a deep sense of peace. She fell asleep thinking how he’d succumb to her charms when he recognized her inner beauty and unlimited ability to love.
Next day, she went to the carnival early, hoping to find the barker. She found him at a hot dog stand. She sat at a table facing the barker. “I wanted to tell you how impressive your zombie show is.”
“Glad you like it. I noticed you were at all the shows last night. Are you from the Herbie Fan Club?”
“No. I love the show. Herbie really is the friendliest zombie in the world. He’s also the most handsome and entertaining performer I’ve ever seen. Have you ever thought of having him try out for a Broadway musical?”
“I don’t think that’d work.”
“I can’t imagine why. He does everything remarkably well. He’s extremely talented, and he’s the most dynamic performer I’ve ever seen.”
“Yes, he does come across that way. But there’s lotsa complicated stuff involved to make that happen. More than you’d ever imagine.”
“How complicated can it be?” she asked. “ James throws a switch on that machine of yours, and off he goes. Look, I’d like to make you a proposition. As a patron of the arts, and considering how talented your zombie is, I think he needs someone who has the means to sponsor him and lead him to higher things. Plays. Musicals. A concert at Carnegie Hall. Perhaps he can even play his violin with the New York Philharmonic. Or sing with the Metropolitan Opera. Frankly, I can offer Herbie a better life than a traveling carnival. I want to buy Herbie. How much do you want for him?”
“He ain’t for sale.”
“Not even for a million dollars?”
“You wanna pay a million dollars for a dead zombie?”
“For goodness sakes! You make it sound like he’s lower than a maggot. I’ll pay you a million for Herbie and that ugly machine that James operates. Of course I’ll need an operator’s manual, the restraining chair, and whatever else is necessary to make everything work smoothly.”
“Like I said, Herbie ain’t for sale.”
“How about renting him?”
“I never heard of renting out a zombie. Come to think of it, we shut down the show from Thanksgiving until mid-January. Money gets pretty tight. If I agreed, you’d hafta set up a place for his special equipment, and get a backup generator in case of power failures. You’d also hafta sign papers promising that you wouldn’t use him in any public performances. Let me think about it. How can I reach you?”
“I’ll be at every show from now on.”
That night after the last show, the barker approached Wilma. “Herbie ain’t for sale or rent. I like things the way they are. Besides, if we lose control of him, there might be trouble.”
Wilma cried all night.
The next day, the carnival departed Charleston for Atlanta. Wilma checked into Atlanta’s best hotel. For the next week, she waved to Herbie from the front row and bought his autographed photos.
By the time the carnival reached Birmingham, Herbie was used to seeing Wilma at every show. He acknowledged her presence by asking her to stand and wave to the audience.
When the carnival played Chattanooga, Herbie called Wilma to the stage, put his arm around her, and introduced her to the applauding audience. When he told them she hadn’t missed a single show for two months, they clapped louder.
Herbie autographed the photos she bought after every show with a different caption every time. The messages had grown warmer. One evening, he wrote, “Wish we could meet and talk.”
Wilma wept with joy.
The next day, she spotted the barker sitting alone at the carnival’s pizza stand. “How’s it going, Tom?”
“I’m fine. I gotta say, you sure are one helluva gutsy woman. I never figured you’d go to such lengths to be around Herbie. Why are you doing this?”
“I’m in love with Herbie.”
“Geez, Wilma. Are you gonna spend your life pursuing a zombie? He’s dead. He was buried over fifty years ago. Dr. Dumont’s journal says Herbie doesn’t even have a heart. All his internal organs are gone. He’s filled with embalming fluid to keep his body from collapsing. When he waves his arms, and you’re standing close enough, you can hear fluid sloshing inside.”
“But he has charm, and spirit, and gusto and—”
“That was all programmed into the electronic gadgets Dumont put into his skull after all Herbie’s brains were sucked out. Do you know that the top of Herbie’s head has hinges? James has to open his skull once a week to blow compressed air through all the electrical equipment in there? If James didn’t do that, we’d never be able to rouse Herbie from his death trance. Think about what it is you love. Herbie’s a dead man who was turned into a zombie by a witch doctor. He’s a cadaver that doesn’t rot, because of high-tech embalming fluid. He’s got no heart. No lungs. His head is full of electronics. A head that has hinges. A head that needs to be cleaned every week with compressed air. How can you sit there and tell me you love such a thing?”
“You don’t know what love is, Tom!”
“Not the kind you’re talking about. What if I told you I was in love with a vampire? One that sucked blood from little kids. What would you say?”
“I’d say that vampires need love too. Just like zombies. And werewolves. And ghouls.”
Figuring Wilma for a harmless loon, the barker never mentioned her actions again.
Wilma followed them to New Orleans. Then Miami. That’s where she discovered Herbie had a dark side.
During the final show on closing night, Herbie was doing a handstand on a bicycle’s handlebars. A teen threw an egg that smashed against Herbie’s head, throwing him off balance. He fell off the bike and hit the ground hard.
Wilma screamed. The barker tried to help Herbie to his feet, but the zombie roughly shoved him aside. The barker yelled to James, “Reduce renticular renification to seven point nine.”
James turned switches and pressed buttons like a madman. Herbie’s growls were so unnerving the audience rushed to the exits screaming.
Wilma ran to the stage and threw her arms around Herbie. His behavior changed instantly. He smiled and called to the audience, “Hey, y’all. C’mon back. It’s all part of the act. Don’t be alarmed. Everything’s cool.” He kissed Wilma’s cheek. Eyes twinkling, he said, “Thanks, Wilma. You’re a sweetie. We oughta hug more often.”
The barker couldn’t thank Wilma enough for what she’d done, though he wasn’t sure which had calmed Herbie: Wilma’s embrace, or renificator signals. Even James was uncertain if he’d completed the calming sequence before Wilma hugged the zombie.
As a reward for preventing a potential disaster, the barker included Wilma in Herbie’s act. At first, she did little things: passed him juggling balls, setup tables for his magic acts, rolled out the bicycle on which he performed acrobatics.
Wilma was never happier.
But after a year, Wilma felt that something was still missing in her relationship with Herbie—something she couldn’t articulate. On one hand she wanted to find ways to get closer. On the other, she wasn’t sure how to bridge the chasm that separated them. When the answer came to her in a dream, she wondered why she hadn’t thought of it sooner. After careful consideration, she explained her plans to the barker.
“Are you sure, Wilma?” he asked.
“Positive. I can’t think of anything I want more.”
“Wilma, you’re one helluva a gutsy woman. In fact, you have more guts than any ten men I know.”
“It’s not guts, Tom. It’s love.”
Wilma disappeared the next day.
Months passed. Few people remembered Wilma had ever existed. But Herbie didn’t forget. Her name was the last word he uttered every night, before he dropped his head and died.
* * *
On a beautiful Spring evening in Biloxi, Mississippi the barker stood outside the zombie show tent. In his proudest voice, he called out, “Step right up ladies and gentlemen. Step right up and see Herbie…and Wilma…the friendliest zombies in the world.”
BIO: Michael A. Kechula’s flash and micro-fiction tales have been published by 150 magazines and 50 anthologies in 8 countries. He’s won 1st prize in 12 writing contests and 2nd prize in 8 others. He’s authored 5 books of flash and micro-fiction tales, including a book that teaches how to write flash fiction. See his publisher’s site at: http://www.booksforabuck.com/ to read a free story or chapter in all of his books.